T. PIERCE BROWN
When I was a boy, I heard of an old farmer who went to church and heard the preacher discourse on the subject of sin. When he came back and was asked what the preacher said about it, he replied, “He seemed to be agin it.”
Since then, I have heard a few preachers speak on the subject of lying, and they seemed, generally, to be “agin” it–at least in theory. However, in my judgment, most of them did not define it adequately. The only definition that fits the Bible usage of which I know is Webster’s first definition, “A lie is an untruth with intent to deceive.” Every untruth is not a lie. A novel does not have to be a historical novel to not be a lie.
There are those who define lying as “not telling the whole truth,” or “one may lie by being silent.” These are imprecise use of words, and may cause much confusion.
In the first place, it is doubtful if you can tell the whole truth about ANYTHING, for the simple reason that you do not know it all! In the second place, neither God’s law, nor any standard of morality of which I know demands that we tell the whole truth about everything.
About 40 years ago I was called to the witness stand to testify against a thief who had broken into the church building. The bailiff said, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” I replied, “I will try to tell all the truth I know insofar as I know it if I am asked.” They all looked shocked, but neither the judge nor the attorney would have allowed me to tell more of the truth than the attorney specifically asked me.
Let me clarify a point. To tell part of the truth is not the same as to tell a partial truth. A part of the truth is the truth. A partial truth is part truth and part lie and is a sin. This is not just a play on words, but is a distinction which God makes. God himself authorized Samuel to tell part of the truth (1 Sam. 16:2), but never authorized ANYONE to tell part of a lie!
If you are asked where you are going, and you tell the person, “I am going to the grocery store,” when you are planning to go the grocery store, drug store and post office, you have not lied. But if you say, “I am going to the grocery store, then straight home,” you have told a partial truth, and have lied.
However, if you hold back from me information that it is my right to know, you have sinned, but have not thereby lied. You do not lie by being silent. You may demonstrate cowardice, and all sorts of other bad things, but you lie by telling an untruth with intent to deceive. For example, if you are driving down the road in a blinding storm, and ask me how far it is to the grocery store, and I tell you, “Two miles,” but neglect to tell you the bridge is out one mile down the road, I have not lied, but I have sinned.
Even pretending something is so when it is not is not necessarily a lie. An actor on a stage is not lying. (He MAY be, but not just because he is acting a part). A boy who goes out in the woods and gets on a stump and pretends the trees are an audience to which he practices speaking is not lying. Of course one MAY tell himself an untruth with intent to deceive, and thereby lie. A man who tries to get himself to believe that his adulterous relationship is O.K. when he knows it is not may be lying to himself.
But some of my preaching brethren almost, if not altogether, accuse God of at least pretending (though I never heard one of them accuse him of lying!) as they try to give an exegesis of Romans 4:5ff.
Their idea is that God justifies the ungodly, and imputes to him righteousness, when he is NOT righteous. They heard someone say, “`Justified’ means `just as if I’d’ never sinned.” That sounds good, so they ASSUME God is PRETENDING you never sinned.
That is far from the truth. God knows, and YOU know that you sinned. He is not trying to pretend you did not, and you better not be! He is plainly declaring, “You sinned, but instead of us pretending you did not, let us freely proclaim that it has been paid for by the death of My Son. Now you can go free, not because we are pretending anything, or trying to deceive anyone. You are NOW reckoned righteous, as clean and pure as if you had never sinned, not on the basis of any pretense or play-acting at all. It is on the basis of your accepting in faithful obedience our gracious act of dying on your behalf.”
When in Romans 4:17 Paul says, “God calls things that are not as though they were,” he is not lying–trying to deceive anyone. It is simply the truth that if, in the purpose of God, a thing is certain, then it IS, from God’s standpoint. When he said to Abraham in Genesis 17:5, “I have made you a father of many nations,” he called a thing that was not, from Abraham’s standpoint, as if it were a reality. It WAS a reality, from God’s viewpoint. There was not even the remotest indication that this was either an untruth, or an intent to deceive. Can anyone assume that he was attempting to deceive Abraham into thinking that he was already the father or many nations–maybe had accidentally begotten some children he did not know about!!!
Just be careful you do not lie. And be careful that you always tell a person any truth it is his right to know. But do not be too disturbed if you do not tell everyone the WHOLE truth about everything, even if they do not ask you. You are under no obligation to tell a man, “Your face looks to me like a dried up prune,” but you have no right to lie to him.